There’s a great infographic making the rounds showing the ups and downs of queer cinema. This year has definitely been a ‘down,’ considering that only one documentary and one cartoon (How to Survive a Plague, ParaNorman) with LGBT themes or characters has made it to Oscar contention. Only a few made it close to wide release: The Perks of Being a Wallflower; Farewell, My Queen; and Pitch Perfect with its sole lesbian character/punchline. We can call that a drought.
But this drought comes after a pretty dynamite decade. Although a queer film has never taken the top prize, five have been nominated for Best Picture in the last ten years. In the Academy’s 85 year history, eight actors – all of them straight – have taken home trophies for playing LGBT characters. Thirteen actors – all straight – have been nominated for playing gay roles in the last ten years. Five of those won. When Tom Hanks took the starring role in Philadelphia, it was brave for a straight actor to play gay. Now, it’s such good award bait that “bravery” is probably the last thing on the mind of any movie star’s manager. It’s good business.
But in this, perhaps America’s queerest industry, there is one huge surprise, pointed out by HuffPost’s Conor Gaughan. Never in the Academy’s 85 years has an openly gay person won an acting award. Jodie Foster has two, but those were long before she did whatever it is she did at the Golden Globes.
Being openly gay (really-gay, not pretend-gay) in the movies is not much easier than in politics or sports.
Perennial gadfly-gay Rupert Everett has made no secret of his disgust for Hollywood’s closet culture. He went on record again after Jodie Foster’s announcement, advising young actors not to come out and chastising the industry for celebrating straight people in gay roles they would never give to gay actors. Everett is currently getting spectacular reviews for his interpretation of Oscar Wilde in a London revival of The Judas Kiss, but that’s the stage. Controversial as he can be, does he have a point?
Sundance is having a bit of a gay moment. Interior. Leather bar. and Kill Your Darlings are the (explicit) talk of the town. But let’s think about that – ILB is the pet project of James Franco (straight) and starring Val Lauren (straight). KYD stars Daniel Radcliffe (straight).
Television is friendlier turf, especially with the powerhouse that is Ryan Murphy. Andrew Rannells, Sarah Paulson, Chris Colfer, and Jesse Tyler Ferguson are just some of those who get to play gay. Zachary Quinto, Matt Bomer, Portia de Rossi, and Neil Patrick Harris get to play straight. Some of these actors have even won Golden Globes and Emmys. But even in the TV funhouse: David on The New Normal is played by Justin Bartha (straight). Glee also has Darren Criss and Naya Rivera (straight, straight). Smash features Christian Borle (straight). Half of Modern Family’s gay couple is straight.
Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing our allies embrace our community in increasingly daring, edgy, outspoken ways. I cried with the rest of ‘em when Sean Penn gave his powerful acceptance speech for Milk. But this is Hollywood! Where are the queer creators? When will a member of our community get to represent our community in a legitimate, Oscar-worthy piece of film? Or, God-forbid, win an Oscar for playing a straight person?
Here’s hoping that TV prophecies the future of cinema, and some of our brave new queer celebrities will make a break for the big screen (Matt Bomer seems to be making a run for it). Hopefully there will come a day when identity doesn’t matter in casting and gay can play straight or straight can play gay and it’s not brave or business savvy it’s just life.
But before we get to that Promised Land I’m hoping for some more discrimination. I want to see gay actors getting the roles because they are gay.
Here’s hoping for more queer characters played by more queer actors. And maybe by next year’s Awards we’ll even get a blockbuster queer story, written by a queer, directed by a queer, and starring some queers. And here’s hoping that they all get to take that muscular gold man home at the end of the night.